Opinion: I.Am.Mars Highlights Media’s Space Coverage Failings

Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am has the honor of producing the first song to be broadcast from Mars. Entitled “Reach for the Stars” the track has helped rekindle interest in space exploration. This effort has been championed by two-time shuttle veteran and current NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin, seen here shaking hand with Will.i.am prior to the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity in November of 2011. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

With all of the attention focused firmly on the departure of space shuttle Endeavour from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida – not so much attention was given to a Science Channel program entitled, “I.am Mars.” The half-hour program detailed the first song ever broadcast from Mars and it highlighted a problem NASA is working to correct and many that are either within NASA or report on the space agency – suffer from.

During the lead up to the launch of Curiosity, Will.i.am, accompanied by two-time shuttle veteran and current NASA Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin were present. The duo would travel to a number of events surrounding Curiosity inclding the rover’s landing, where they monitored MSL’s progress from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) located in Pasadena, Calif. Although not widely publicized at the time, the musician was a man on a mission to inspire.

With the end of the shuttle era, perhaps the old way of reporting the news will become like the shuttles themselves – relics of a bygone era. Photo Credit: Matt Gaetjens

Will.i.am is the front man of the popular music group “Black Eyed Peas” and he is a self-professed nerd. A song that he produced traveled with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity to Mars and is entitled; “Reach for the Stars.”

The I.Am.Mars show on the Science Channel was dedicated to the original Moonwalker Neil Armstrong, a classy nod to a man who inspired so many.

Some of the “old guard” members of the media that call KSC their beat, scoffed and made jokes about the musician’s presence. They and their buddies yukked it up as they prepared to produce the same imagery and stories that have done such a tremendous job of boring the public to death and driving the youth away from space matters in droves.

The song “Reach for the Stars” was transmitted from Mars by the rover Curiosity shortly after its landing on the Red Planet on Aug. 6. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

A few of the die-hard journalists refer to those that express excitement and enthusiasm toward space flight as suffering from a condition they call, “deep sighs and starry skies.” From these type of comments, they have made it abundantly clear that they have long since lost the point about the “why” behind space exploration.

NASA has one of the most marketable products of any federal agency. The fact that it has failed to maintain interest in its efforts can be laid, at least partially, at the feet of the media who have failed to adequately explain the importance of the space agency’s mission to the public. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

It isn’t about detailing the specifics of launch vehicles that allow them to achieve escape velocity – it is about inspiring the best in all of us. For some, they feel that you should possess a doctorate in aerospace engineering just to be able to understand their work.

Given the current economic reality this is wrong-headed to the point of being suicidal. The tax-payers, those benighted folks who foot the bill for every orbiter, lander and rover NASA has launched, have enough on their minds with just putting food on the table. They shouldn’t be expected to have a PhD in astrophysics just to understand an article. It is the journalists’ job to translate NASA-speak into a language everyone can understand – not the other way around.

As such, if you spend your time trying to feed the children of those taxpayers a pack of dry numbers and statistics you will wind up with exactly what we have – a space agency near death and desperately seeking a vision. One wonders where NASA would be if those that were supposed to inspire these children hadn’t failed all of us by their elitist attitudes.

This mindset is the reason why NASA has seen its programs shuttered and its budget gutted. It is this mindset that Will.i.am, Melvin and the other individuals featured in the Science Channel spotlight (including space rock star of the moment Bobak Ferdwowsi – the “Mohawk Guy”) are working to change.

Perhaps it is best that the shuttles are being moved to museums and we are once again looking to explore deep into space, with luck the mentality of those that doggedly stick to what was will follow the shuttles into history. Time will tell.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL



  1. We do not look to NASA to publicize and enhance a singer’s career. The work Leland Melvin has done is focused on education, not himself, and is inspiring.


  2. Yet another clear, concise, extremely well-written article Jason. I appreciate your ability to cut through the clutter and focus on an important issue with the precision of Curiosity’s million watt laser (I gotta get one of those to clear the snow and ice from my sidewalk this winter). It would be great if Congress and the President would enact legislation to “de-politicize” NASA as much as possible, with long-term funding to support long-term planning necessary for space exploration missions. Longer terms for the NASA Administrator, like the FBI Director, would also be helpful. Yeah Jason, I know, the proverbial “snowball in Hell”.

  3. Hi John,

    Nowhere in this Editorial is it suggested that NASA promote Will.i.am’s career. It is stated that those that have failed to promote a variety of events (of which this song is just the latest instance) are somewhat to blame for the public’s waning interest in space exploration.

    This editorial was meant to highlight the media’s failure to excite the public regarding NASA’s efforts (as is stated throughout the Op-Ed and in the headline).

    Having said that, until recently NASA’s efforts to promote itself have been somewhat lacking.

    Sincerely and with regards, Jason Rhian

  4. Jason-

    I enjoyed your article. Esoteric spaceflight reporting can indeed fail to inspire the public on whose interest NASA’s future depends. Such reports can also fail to inspire today’s students to study STEM subjects and become future NASA employees.

    But, legally speaking, NASA can neither promote itself to the taxpaying public nor lobby its interests to Congress. Unlike the Army’s efforts, particularly in time of war, you won’t see any NASA ads on TV to recruit future employees. Although NASA is chartered to disseminate information on its activities, this must be done objectively, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  5. Hi Dan,

    I mostly agree with you. However, the fact that NASA.gov (and other NASA websites) frequently crash during key events – points to aspects of the agency’s mission that could be capitalized on.

    The primary critique of this editorial was focused on the media, who by-and-large have failed NASA.

    Sincerely and with much thanks, Jason

  6. Yesterday, 22 Sept., I had the very enjoyable experience of attending “Astronomy On The Beach”, hosted by the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs. The weekend-long event featured space exploration, as well as astronomical viewing at nightfall, but most exciting and engaging was the special appearance by astronaut Dr. A.J.(Drew) Feustal of STS-125 and STS-134. His lecture, slide presentations, and videos kept the standing-room only audience (many of whom had driven a substantial distance) on the edge of their seats. They sat shivering under the canvas canopy in the chilly mid-western autumn night hanging on his every word. During the question and answer session, remarkably intelligent questions (not just “how do you ‘poop’ in space”) were asked by young and old alike, and Drew did an outstanding job answering in language best suited to his audience. If only this experience could be shared across the country. I could see firsthand that there is indeed a keen interest in, and an earnest desire for, human exploration of space. After his presentation I wanted to seize the microphone and entreat the very large group “If your standing ovation, thunderous applause, and rock star-like adulation of Dr. Feustal are any indication of your support of a viable, vibrant, space program, then DO SOMETHING! Let your elected representatives know that even though you don’t live in a “space state”, this is a national priority if we are to survive as a technological world leader. I agree with you Jason, perhaps it is time for some serious introspection by the media as to an issue so important to our nation. The media can challenge us and appeal to our intellect and better natures, or it can placate us with pop culture and pander to our interest in the sensational but trivial. Like you Jason, I believe that a photo of Gale Crater taken by Curiosity is immeasurably more important and interesting than the most recent mug shot of Lindsay Lohan taken by the L.A.P.D., but would you care to bet that space exploration will get less attention during the upcoming presidential debates than it received during the Florida Republican primary – a few guffaws about the cost of a permanent lunar base. Please continue your very enlightening, entertaining, and yes, even inspiring efforts on behalf of the often ignored space community. With sincere respect and highest esteem, Karol

  7. As any frequent viewer of MSNBC or FOX News knows, even journalists have opinions. For those commentors confused about the proper place for opinions – this feature is an editorial. The definition below is for you.

    1. An article in a newspaper or other periodical presenting the OPINION of the publisher, editor, or editors.

    Sincerely and with warmest regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

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  8. Dear Jason and Jim, perhaps it is the case that the “old guard” members of the media are exactly that. They represent, and are a part of, what was once a thriving, invaluable bulwark of democracy, the print and network broadcast media. The romantic era of fedora wearing cigar chomping “Scoop” Jackson bursting into the newsroom shouting “Stop the presses” is now the stuff of Hollywood nostalgia. Have a journalism degree from Columbia? Good luck. The bankruptcy of large, well-established newspapers across the nation attest to this inexorable fact: how we receive news has greatly changed, and will probably continue to do so at an ever increasing rate. You, Jason, Jim, Ben, Amy, et al are at the forefront of this change. Like many others, I have neither the time nor the inclination to sift through a newspaper or broadcast laden with information about Lady GaGa’s latest cellulite problem, who was dropped from American Idol, or that the goalie for the Boston Celtics kicked a home run to win the Masters Tournament. I am very grateful that you have chosen to gird your loins for battle, and taken up sword and shield, that I may have an accurate, dependable, concise source of news and information that I care about. AmericaSpace is an important part of the future, and YOU Jason and Jim are AmericaSpace. I don’t look to the “old guard” for the news I want and need because I know I will not get it, I look to you. Like you, I would be extremely grateful to the print or broadcast journalist who would courageously step forward to editorialize (yes, be brave enough to say that it is your opinion)in favor of space exploration. Geez, just take one minute from the earth-shaking news about Britney Spears weight loss travails and give it to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. From Watergate to Whitewater the “old guard” served commendably, but this is a new era in which the speed of electronic information dissemination is actually integrally linked with the event itself, i.e. the “Arab Spring” situation. This brave new world of journalism at the speed of light requires a brave new breed of journalists. Carpe Diem Jason and Jim, I’m glad you’re on my side. With sincere respect and highest esteem, Karol

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